Sedona Nature and Its Environment

Most people think of a desert as a barren landscape but, on closer inspection, the Sedona Red Rock Wilderness area has an abundance of life and natural processes contained within the high desert environment of this area.

Sedona AZSitting at 4500 feet, Sedona is part of the Upper Sonoran Desert, situated between the low desert of the Phoenix area and the Ponderosa pine forests of Flagstaff. At this elevation, Sedona receives 300 days of sunshine each year. With temps ranging from the mid 50's in winter to the mid 90's in summer, Sedona has become a year round destination for outdoor enthusiasts and travelers alike.

With the Oak Creek cutting through the Sedona area, you find the opportunity to witness just how drastically water would transform a desert environment. The riparian environment of the creek is a welcome contrast to the dryness of the desert.

Below are some of the flora, fauna and natural processes that give the Sedona area a unique distinction. Life is indeed bountiful in the desert.


The average annual rainfall in the Sedona area is between 15 to 18 inches per year. When it does rain, it usually rains in small, intense bursts that doesn't allow the water to soak into the ground. This leaves behind pools of water in the natural rock depressions and in washes that can serve as temporary water holes for local wildlife. It is not uncommon to find animal tracks around these areas.

Sedona AZ toursDuring the summer Sedona gets a third of its annual rainfall from the monsoon season that runs from mid July through September. The monsoon is a wind shift that brings up Gulf moisture from the south. During this time, afternoon clouds and showers can bring welcome relief from the desert heat. Monsoons also bring some intense evening lightening displays as scientists once recorded over 18000 strikes here within a 24 hour period!!

Snowfalls in Sedona are few as we only get 2 or 3 snowfalls of more than a few inches each year, but the effect is dramatic. The combination of the white snow, greenery in the trees and red rocks leaves nature lovers scrambling for their cameras.

Despite the rain and snow, the Sedona area is experiencing a cyclical drought that can be hard on the local vegetation. The immune system of a tree is sap and, without water to make sap, more trees are succumbing to the effects of mistletoe and the bark beetle.


At Sedona's elevation and amount of rainfall the conifer trees dominate - Arizona Cypress, Pinon Pine and the Juniper. These trees keep their leaves year round and are more oil based and aromatic. If you are ever in Sedona after a rainfall you know what I mean - the smells are wonderful.

Sedona AZMany of the larger trees and bushes secrete acids from their roots which can eat through soft rock and allow the tree to search for water in the porous rock. This is one reason that you may notice an abundance of bushes growing from the sides of some of the red rocks. In fact, the mesquite tree can have a taproot which extends almost 75 feet down into the ground.

Many trees need high temperatures from fires to open up their seed cones but the Arizona Cypress uses lightening. You will find these red barked trees in low lying areas around washes as they need extra water. The red in the bark is due to iron content, which attracts lightening. As these trees get struck, the top will start on fire and the sap gets vaporized into steam which runs down to the root system. The roots are so deep and the ground so hard that the steam is forced back up the tree which puts the fire out and heats up the tree to open its seed cones. Pretty cool!

Around some of the more established washes and the Oak Creek you will find the more water based deciduous trees that shed their leaves in the winter. Sycamore and Cottonwood trees spread across the riparian areas and the cooler canyon areas, such as Westfork, contain ash, maple and oak trees. In these areas you will find a colorful display of leaves in late October.

Shrubs and Cactus

The cowboys called all of the brush below the trees the chaparral. In Sedona you find a wide variety of small dense bushes that help to hold the soil together and provide food and shade for the wildlife. The more abundant types are scrub oak, desert holly, snakeweed, sage and agave.

Sedona AZThe agave plant lives for about 35 years and when it is ready it will send all of its energy to the center of the plant. It will then shoot up a stalk that grows 4 to 6 inches every single night up to about 18 feet. After this the base dies and the seeds hit the ground. The agave blooms in May and is quite a colorful sight to behold.

It is interesting to note that the Native Americans who lived around here were able to use the different parts of most of the desert plants for food, medicine or other practical purposes. The agave, alone, had over 5 different uses.

And what desert would be complete without cactus? The prickly pear, hedgehog and pincushion are three of the common varieties in Sedona. Each of these has a beautiful bloom and uses it cactus needles like leaves to cool the surface area of the plant from the high heat of the desert.

The floor of Sedona also contains a special soil called cryptobiotic soil, which means hidden life. This black crusty soil contains bacteria, mosses, lichen and fungi which grow together to create a super soil which provides many nutrients and helps to hold in water. This soil takes over 75 years to form and its fragility is the reason it is important not to stray off the hiking trails.


The Sedona area contains a variety of wildlife that would best be seen by night as most of the animals are nocturnal. Mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats and mule deer are some of the larger animals that reside here.

You will find that some of the animals, such as mule deer and jackrabbits, are equipped with some pretty large ears. No, it's not to hear better. The ears are full of blood vessels which allows heat to escape so the animal can stay cooler.

The animal you may be most likely to encounter in town is the pig-like javalina. Javalinas are actually members of the rodent family, not pigs, and like to eat a bit of everything which is why you find them in Sedona neighborhoods rifling through everyone's trash.

Around the Oak Creek you will find bald eagles, golden eagles, hawks and heron all trying to capture the local trout for dinner. On land, you will see a predominance of ravens, blue jays, thrushes, woodpeckers and the ever- fleet roadrunner. The riparian environment of the Oak Creek provides seasonal refuge for migratory species such as the tanagers and the hummingbirds.

The Sedona area is also home to its share of creepy crawly types which usually get a bad rap. Lizards, snakes, scorpions and tarantulas all roam the desert floor. Besides the occasional chance encounter, you almost have to go looking for these guys in order to find them. The snakes, in particular, are cold blooded and like to hide in shady spots to protect themselves from the heat of the sun. Adult rattlesnakes and scorpions are saving their venom for their prey and would just rather avoid humans. By staying on the established hiking trails you are unlikely to run into them. If you do, the avoidance technique is a wise, pain free maneuver.

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We stayed in Sedona for a full week and did a couple of tours with Kurt, from Inner Journeys. Wow! He drove us to several unique areas, explaining the different land formations, folklore stories, flora, fauna and even took some great photos of my husband and me! Kurt was very careful and is a wealth of information - not to mention a fabulous person! He will design a hike or tour just for you and your needs! The two days we spent with Kurt were definitely the highlight of our entire week in Sedona!
                                 Sandee and Stephan – Canada

Kurt’s tour turned out to be an unforgettable experience. We found him to be a gifted storyteller and natural guide, who interprets the wonder of Sedona's unique physical terrain according to the rich tradition of Native American wisdom. Kurt's knowledge, sensitivity and humor will give you a deeper understanding of, and appreciation for, this unforgettable place.
                                    Kathleen – ILL.

My husband and I had an amazing long weekend in Sedona - what a first visit to the area! In addition to the breathtaking scenery and lovely town, having Kurt and Mariposa as a major part of our weekend was the best decision we could have made. Kurt was able to give us a local's perspective by taking us on some beautiful, connected-to-nature walks that were accompanied with great insight and a natural understanding of what it means to take in and enjoy Sedona.
                                       Rob – WA.


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+1 928.282.1706
3580 Moki Drive
Sedona, AZ 86336